Rapid growth is a good problem for a company to have. However, it’s still a problem — a potentially fatal one — when not properly managed.
Early-stage companies are often caught off-guard by their own success. As much as they might believe in their concepts or the early employees they’ve recruited to turn them into reality, they often don’t truly believe in their growth potential — or maybe don’t want to jinx anything — until they see it with their own eyes.
Planning is crucial, because it’s hard to turn back the clock on growth. As your company grows from a handful of committed die-hards into a mature, multi-layered professional organization, management quality can’t suffer — a tall order for visionary founders who turn out to be mediocre executives.
“Managing a 20-person company is much different than managing a 2,000-person company,” says Scott Vollero, an international entrepreneur who built a multi-office metal recycling company in the 2000s. “At a certain point, the skills that made you successful as the leader of an early-stage startup no longer apply, and if you continue trying to do things the way you did them before, you could actively harm your company’s prospects.
“Painful as it may be, it’s often in the company’s best interest for the founder to see the writing on the wall and step aside gracefully,” he adds, “before activist investors or concerned board members take matters into their own hands.”
Of course, not every growth story needs to end with the founder on the outs. If your company is growing faster than you can handle, do these five things:
- Bring in the Professionals
Hiring a senior executive is tough — but, for founders worried about sustaining their company’s momentum, crucial. As a founder, you need to begin looking for a professional successor before you feel truly overmatched, at which point it could be too late.
- Build a Better Board
Once you professionalize the ranks of your upper management team, you need to build a strong, stable mechanism to hold them accountable. That means a board stocked with veterans from your industry or its immediate adjacents. Aim high — you never know who’ll agree to the job, particularly if you’ve got a compelling growth story to tell.
- Keep Your Footprint Light
Company-owned trucks and warehouses are so passe. The easiest way to get overwhelmed by rapid growth is to try to amass a commercial real estate footprint to match it. Farm as much as possible — fulfillment, transport, professional services — to third-party providers that you can trust (and that truly know what they’re doing).
- Cultivate Consistent Culture
When you don’t recognize half the people in your bullpen, company culture and widely dispersed institutional knowledge are likely the only things keeping your employees honest. Make sure they’re both solid as solid can be — and that you and the rest of the executive team are leading by example.
- Never Compromise Quality
Nothing puts the brakes on growth like a disappointed client with an axe to grind. All it takes is one truly dissatisfying experience to flip the narrative. Whatever you have to do to keep the quality of your product consistent, no matter how much it costs, do it. It’s better to delay profitability a little longer and get everything perfect than to rush to release a mediocrity that you immediately need to disavow.